JACKSONVILLE — Armed with strong low-post presence, shooters on the perimeter and stingy defense, the Hazel Green girls basketball team made for a difficult matchup for Fort Payne.
Mattie Prewett led the Wildcats with 15 points and Kylie Neil added eight points and six assists in a 59-39 loss in the AHSAA Class 6A Northeast Regional final at Pete Mathews Coliseum on Tuesday afternoon.
“(The Trojans) have good guards and good post play, so when you’re playing a team like them with our speed and our size, you try to take away one or the other,” Wildcats coach Steve Sparks said.
The Wildcats finished their season with a 25-8 record, making the regional final for the first time in three seasons.
Both teams shot 25 percent in the opening period and led to Hazel Green taking a 10-3 advantage.
The shooting improved in the second quarter, however, especially for the Trojans (33-2). Maggie Telaga sank two 3-point baskets and MaKenzie Hill added another shot from beyond the arc during a 5-1 run that propelled Hazel Green into a 23-7 lead with 3:45 to play until halftime.
“Their shooting was key in the second quarter,” Sparks said. “Basically 50 percent from 3-point range for the game and that’s tough to defend when you’re trying to take away passes to the post,” Sparks said.
The combination of Katie Johnson (12 points, six rebounds) and Farrah Pearson (11 points, eight rebounds) in the low post was enough for the Wildcats to handle. But Steele and Telaga created an additional threat from 3-point range.
Johnson passed to a cutting Pearson in the paint for a layup to extend the lead to 25-9, and Hill dished to Steele for a 3-pointer in the final seconds of the first half to put Hazel Green in control at 34-15 at the break.
Johnson scored in the paint with 5:10 remaining in the third to give the Trojans a 20-point advantage.
Hazel Green led by as much as 25 with 6:02 left in regulation.
Fort Payne finished with 13 turnovers to Hazel Green’s nine. Nearly every shot the Wildcats took in the paint was contested.
“They were guarding us so well, but I had to at least try to score,” Prewett said.
Four of the Trojans’ starters finished the game with double-digit scoring. Steele led the way with a game-high 18 points and was named the 6A Northeast Regional tournament MVP. Telaga added 10 points and Hill finished with eight points.
Prewett and Neil represented Fort Payne on the all-tournament team.